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The renowned Sundance Film Festival kicks of Jan. 21 in Park City, Utah, and this year, more than just indie darlings and student films will be gracing the screens of the frigid town. Virtual reality is making a huge play at this year’s festival and is set to push Sundance, and the nature of filmmaking, into the future. Stacked against more than 120 films and shorts, VR storytelling is set to become the talk of Park City this year due to its immersive capabilities beyond that of regular film.

With their New Frontier program, Sundance is bestowing an open-minded, forward-thinking and uber-confident seal of approval to the emerging art of VR filmmaking and storytelling. The festival plans to showcase 30 different VR exhibitions covering every genre under the sun – a potpourri of selection similar to the indie films the festival became famous for highlighting. Shari Frilot, senior programmer at Sundance and New Frontier’s chief curator notes the astonishing and meteoric rise of VR in the past year alone. “At last year’s festival, we showed about 11 or 12 [VR] works, and it was really hard to get all of them,” she told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “This year, it’s 30 works, and I culled them from hundreds of submissions.”

The mark of a good movie is that it can transport viewers from the theatre or the comfort of their homes into the environment and the world of what’s being portrayed on screen. For VR, that experience is magnified ten-fold, directly bringing and immersing an audience into that very environment by hopefully creating an undeniable realistic simulation that makes people feel like they’re actually there. That power and capability is what drives VR filmmakers like Danfung Dennis who co-founded San Francisco VR tech firm Condition One, which will showcase In the Presence of Animals, a VR experience that highlights endangered animals, at this year’s festival.

Sundance virtual reality

Utilizing digital 3D cameras and techniques, VR filmmakers can essentially sow together footage to create an expansive, resolutely whole image that depicts a realistic, encompassing environment. Other VR offerings at this year’s Sundance include a VR music video of Björk performing her song “Stonemilker” on a beach, Across the Line, a VR experience that places viewers into the shoes of a woman entering an abortion clinic, making her way through a frenzied crowd of protestors and Kiya, a haunting VR depiction that employs real 911 calls and CGI animation to recreate a horrifying domestic violence scenario.

For those of you lucky enough to find yourself at this year’s Sundance film festival, you can check out all of New Frontier’s VR offerings at the VR Bar in Gateway Center. And because I knew some of you VR geeks are dying to know, the VR works at Sundance will be operated through a number of platforms and devices including HTC’s Vive headset, the Oculus Rift and smartphone technology. Sundance has a great track record with ushering in trends that Hollywood scoops up, so if VR makes a killing, we could see the incorporation of this technology into the mainstream very soon.

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